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Top senators propose bipartisan panel to investigate COVID’s origin and the US response

Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan last February.

Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

  • Sens. Patty Murray and Richard Burr are proposing a bipartisan probe into the pandemic’s origin and the US’ response.
  • Their proposal would also dramatically overhaul the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • If created, their special pandemic investigation would be wrapped up within a year.

Top lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a bipartisan task force to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the US government’s response to the worst epidemic in over a century, The Washington Post reports.

According to Sens. Patty Murray and Richard Burr’s draft legislation, a panel, whose members would be appointed by both parties’ leadership, would issue a draft report within roughly six months and a final report within a year. The special task force would be responsible for investigating the “initial emergence” of COVID-19 as well as “the United States’ preparedness for and response” for the pandemic.

There is no definitive proof as to how the pandemic emerged. The World Health Organization has criticized China’s lack of cooperation with its investigation.

President Joe Biden previously ordered the intelligence community to review its findings amid renewed attention to the theory that SARS-CoV-2, the formal name for the novel virus, could have escaped from a lab. A declassified version of its report found America’s top intelligence agencies remained “divided on the most likely origin.” Intelligence agencies did judge that COVID-19 “was not developed as a biological weapon.” CNN reported that the FBI had “moderate confidence” in the theory that the virus leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

If passed into law, this would not be the first panel to investigate the government’s pandemic response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in April 2020 the creation of the House select committee on the coronavirus that was focused on monitoring how the Trump administration spent trillions in federal spending as was as its initial response. Unlike the January 6 committee, Republican leadership has participated in the panel’s efforts.

Murray chairs the Senate Health committee and Burr is the top Republican, giving their legislation a bipartisan stamp of approval that could greatly aid its chances in becoming law. Their legislation is called the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act or the PREVENT Pandemics Act.

Outside of the task force, Murray and Burr call for a series of sweeping reforms that appear to address many of the frustrations that lawmakers and public health officials have zeroed in on over the course of the pandemic. 

Among their largest proposals, the legislation calls for the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be Senate confirmed. Currently, the director is a presidential appointee. The director would be mandated to appear before a pair of Senate committees on a yearly basis. Their bill would also require the CDC to create an agency-wide strategic plan every four years. 

The Food and Drug Administration, which has faced some criticism over its approval process for testing and its management of vaccine approval, would be required to modernize its approval process.

Both the Biden and Trump administration faced criticism over how they communicated about the pandemic. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to establish an advisory panel focused on communications during health emergencies. 

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